Few Bright Spots for Women in Walker’s Budget
Cuts to BadgerCare, child support enforcement and W-2 will harm women and girls
But its mixed bag of income tax cuts, Medicaid changes and program funding will definitely have an impact on women and girls, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH).
Emma Hynes, the lead author of the WAWH study, said advocates had hoped that Walker would reinvest in women’s health programs, given that the state has an anticipated $485 million surplus going into this budget, instead of a $3.6 billion hole.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of that,” Hynes said.
Support for Survivors of Violence
Instead of using the bulk of the anticipated surplus to reinvest in programs that had their funding cut two years ago, Walker is offering a $343 million income tax cut that will disproportionately go to the state’s wealthiest residents.
That means Walker’s previous cuts to transit, public education and safety net programs will continue in the coming years despite having the resources to make them whole.
However, there are some bright spots in Walker’s budget for women and girls—primarily his increased support for programs that aid victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The Sexual Assault Victims Services (SAVS) grant program will have its funding restored to $2 million annually and its funding source will now be general purpose revenue, instead of the less stable Crime Victim and Witness Assistance Surcharge. According to data from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), 13,346 sexual assault victims received services in 2010. The organization supports the changes made to the program’s funding source.
Walker is also providing $10.6 million to build a Family Justice Center in Milwaukee, which will be operated by Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Sojourner Family Peace Center. The budget also includes funding for victim services in Madison and $7 million and 66 full-time positions for increased GPS tracking of sex offenders and those who violate a domestic abuse restraining order. Funding for other domestic violence programs will remain the same, however.
Women’s Health Programs at Risk
Walker has refused to accept $3.9 billion in federal funds that would expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income Wisconsinites. Instead, he will use additional state taxpayer dollars to shift individuals earning more than the federal poverty level off of BadgerCare and on to the not-yet-established health insurance exchanges to be set up under the Affordable Care Act. About 88,000 parents and 6,000 childless adults would lose their BadgerCare eligibility if Walker’s plan is passed in the budget. An estimated 28,000 people would not be able to afford coverage in the exchanges and go without health insurance.
Since Walker’s plan would cost the state more while providing less coverage, it’s been widely accused of being a politically motivated stunt to appeal to tea partiers outside of Wisconsin.
“Gov. Walker’s budget unnecessarily attacks the health, well-being and economic security of thousands of Wisconsin women and their families,” wrote state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) in a statement emailed to the Shepherd.
Walker is putting women’s health programs at risk. According to WAWH’s analysis, prenatal coverage via BadgerCare would be preserved, but postnatal care would be eliminated. Hynes said Walker had promised to fix this provision in subsequent amendments, but nothing has been offered as of this writing.
Funds for BadgerCare’s family planning services would also be drastically cut. Currently about 73,300 people are enrolled, but Walker would reduce coverage to just 1,000 individuals by June 2015. It seems that Walker assumes that these individuals would get contraceptive coverage as part of their insurance plans purchased on the exchanges.
“That assumption is a little scary for a lot of reasons,” Hynes said. “At points of transition, women often lose coverage for at least a few months. You can lose insurance coverage for a few months, but you can’t go without contraception for a few months.”
Wisconsin’s Well Woman Program, which covers preventive screenings, would receive a small boost based on a projected increase in enrollment.
That said, punitive cuts made two years ago to the Women’s Health Block Grant, which covers family planning, are continued in this budget even though the program saves the state money in the long run because it reduces unintended pregnancies. And women are just now feeling the impact of Walker’s elimination of funds in 2011 for all-options pregnancy counseling and services, which is forcing Planned Parenthood to close four of its clinics this year.
Walker has also included restrictions on BadgerCare eligibility and benefit reductions for families that will require federal approval. At least 3,500 children would no longer qualify for BadgerCare if Walker’s proposal is approved.
No Help for Single Parents
Hynes said women would also disproportionately feel the effects of Walker’s failure to reinvest in the state’s Tobacco Control Program (women initiate 60% of the calls to the quit line), public transit (59% of Milwaukee County Transit System riders in 2012 were female) and the child care subsidy program Wisconsin Shares (the vast majority of child care providers and parents using the subsidy are women).
Walker is also cutting $34 million from the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program and predicting that enrollment will decrease. But that sunny forecast contradicts current trends, which show that enrollment is increasing dramatically. All W-2 participants are parents with dependent children. The majority of them are women; 60% of all participants are African American.
And although the child support enforcement program reaps huge benefits for single parents struggling to get by, Walker is cutting support for it by $424,800 during the biennium. As a result, the state will lose more than $800,000 in federal matching funds over the next two years.